Feds propose to dismiss pollution case against defunct mining company

Two mining executives from Australia accused of polluting a salmon stream in far Western Alaska remain fugitives and only they know what, if anything, remains of the platinum mining company they once headed, federal prosecutors say in a new court filing.

The government is proposing to dismiss criminal charges against XS Platinum Inc. while extradition proceedings continue against its executives, Bruce Butcher and Mark Balfour.

"The United States has been unable to find any indication that the corporation continues to exist," prosecutors said in a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court to dismiss charges against the company.

XS Platinum and five company officials were indicted in November 2014 on charges of conspiring to violate the federal Clean Water Act and of falsifying compliance reports to the government.

They were accused of discharging polluted wastewater with toxic levels of metals into Kuskokwim Bay's Salmon River, an area where mining began in the 1920s. The discharges turned the river from "crystal clear to dirty brown," prosecutors have said.

Two of the men, mining geologist and mine manager Robert Pate and plant manager James Staeheli, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to community service and ordered to pay fines.

James Slade, who had served as Platinum's chief operating officer, took the matter to trial. Jurors found him guilty of two misdemeanors but not of several felony charges. He ultimately agreed to accept a deal to plead to a felony environmental crime and was sentenced to a year in prison. He was released Dec. 15.

The government still is working to bring top executives Butcher and Balfour to Alaska to face charges, but extradition has been slow. In June 2015, federal prosecutors submitted the men's addresses and identifying information to the Office of International Affairs, which takes the lead for the U.S. Department of Justice in extradition cases.

More than a year later, in August 2016, the prosecution team provided information that compared the substance of the accusations to Australia environmental offenses.

If any remnants of the corporation still exist, the two executives are in the best position to know, prosecutors said in a status report filed Wednesday.

"Until those two fugitive defendants are extradited it is not anticipated there will be any new information available regarding the company and any remaining assets" that may be prosecuted, prosecutors said in the status report to U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason.

Both Butcher and Balfour have attorneys. Both men are refusing to come to the United States on their own, federal prosecutors say in court filings.

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.